Information wants to be free*

*No, that’s not what he said, and no, it’s not completely
true.

Thirty-five years ago, in a conversation with Steve Wozniak
(pioneer of the personal computer), Stuart Brand (founder of the
Whole Earth Catalog along with many other foundational
disruptions),
said
:

On the one hand you have — the point you’re making Woz —
is that information sort of wants to be expensive because it is so
valuable — the right information in the right place just changes
your life. On the other hand, information almost wants to be free
because the costs of getting it out is getting lower and lower all
of the time. So you have these two things fighting against each
other.

This is prescient, and it deserves to be quoted or at least
paraphrased correctly.

Information wants to be free or it wants to be
expensive.

How can both be true?

Information that seeks the network effect, that is most useful
when lots of people know it, that changes the culture–well,
making this information free is the best way to accomplish this
effect. The alphabet wants and needs to be free, because if you had
to pay to learn and use a set of letters to make words, it
wouldn’t be universally adopted and would fail. The same is true
for the pursuit of hit records–getting played on the radio is the
goal of the label, even if the radio is giving the music away. The
music is ‘worth’ more when it’s a hit.

The tension for so many creators is that they’re used to
friction associated with their mass-produced work, friction that
used to pay them better than it does now. This is the shift that
Brand is talking about in half of his statement.

But some information is valuable because it creates barriers to
entry, gives a few people a head start, confers status, solves a
specific problem in real-time, etc.

There’s no reason to price the design of a custom addition to
a home by a famous architect at free. The person who’s buying it
doesn’t benefit from it being free–they benefit from the status
that comes from it being scarce.

And the information that comes from a meeting that’s only open
to paying attendees is worth more because you got to learn it and
others didn’t.

And Michael Bloomberg is a billionaire because his company sells
information to companies just a few seconds faster than they can
get it anywhere else. The cost of the information creates scarcity
and the scarcity creates value.

[This post was inspired by a poorly edited headline and article
in the
Times
yesterday that got the quote wrong and is also remarkably
(or sadly, not remarkably) s****t. It’s hard to imagine it having
the same tone if it were written about a man.]

Source: Marketing Blogs
Information wants to be free*